As the October series of large gallery exhibitions come to a close and the November exhibitions wait behind the scenes to be set up, now is the time to attend a small exhibition at Ocean House Gallery & Frame in Cape Elizabeth. . Expectations for this type of venue are usually not very high, as the main business focuses on practical issues of art presentation and conservation (rugs and framing) rather than the art itself. “Exhibition” can often seem like an exaggerated term to describe the types of shows found in picture frame stores, where pretty postcard photos of landscapes and seascapes, flowers or birds tend to predominate. .
It was therefore a pleasure to discover instead the work of Marci Spier, currently presented in an exhibition entitled “Letters to Love” (until November 20). Spier applies oil paint and oil stick to gesso paper, canvas, or panel to create works that mimic sheets of paper with three holes, most with notes etched into the paint. with a ballpoint pen. They “aim to capture the nostalgia of writing love notes on paper,” explains his artist’s statement about the series. There is some opportunity to this. A 2018 National Literacy Trust report found letter writing among children and youth was on the rise from 28.9% in 2011 to 36.7%. And a U.S. Postal Service survey last April found that one in six consumers send more letters and cards, many in an effort to feel more connected with people during the isolation imposed by the pandemic.
Spier’s notes themselves are directed to “love” – as in the quality, idea, and manifestation of love – rather than a person. It could have resulted in a lot of sentimental molasses. Indeed, these missives can sometimes move away dangerously: “Dear love, it is normal that we do not see things the same way” or “Dear love, it is not always easy, but you do. always vals ”. Whether you cringe or smile will depend on the perspective from which you see it. Certainly, we could be cynical about these and other messages (“Dear love, I have high hopes”). But they can also sound like positive affirmations that function as beacons of optimism during our perfect pre-election storm of political (and loveless) divisions and high anxiety about COVID-19, military conflicts to choose from over. the map and natural disasters with alarming frequency.
But what elevates them is Spier’s exploration of color as language. The series was inspired by the 1970 painting “Summer” by Joan Snyder (now at the Art Institute of Chicago) in which Snyder used graphite to create lines on the canvas in the manner of Agnes Martin, Frank Stella. and other artists. Rather than writing on the lines, however, Snyder used horizontal paint strokes as notations, or perhaps journal entries, that seemed to relate the color’s progression over the season. In a tribute to Snyder’s painting, “Love Letter to Blue” from 2017 (not on display here), Spier experimented with the limits of the English language to fully express his respect for that color. So she let go of the words all together and just let the painting speak of her affinity with her. A wordless painting from the exhibition, “Blank,” does this, with the addition of a simple heart drawn over the painting in one corner.
Spier’s best pieces are where she built the surface with thick layers of color. The top layer is almost always a gooey impasto of white, with horizontal blue lines and the vertical red line and perforations painted on it with an oil stick. Sometimes, however, the lines and perforations are striped in the white to reveal several layers of color underneath, as in “Normalize” – “Dear Love” it says “let’s normalize (expletive)”, to which a fairly universal answer might. be “Amen to that!” The impression is that the most apparent message (read: written) has, literally, many nuances of meaning, meanings that abound beneath the surface of reds, yellows, blues, pinks, etc.
Other times the colors are applied over other colors that have not yet dried, resulting in tinted rather than pure white tints. In “We Both Know”, the white layer is pink; in “Normalize” it is yellowed. The play of colors elicits a multiplicity of emotional responses which, of course, will vary with each viewer. But the simplicity of the conceptual and visual approach makes these paintings immediately accessible. Most also benefit from a smaller scale, which feels both more intimate and, due to the concentration of so much paint in a condensed field, more physically resonant.
Owner Graham Wood’s stable of artists includes several other very intriguing talents, including Stephen St. John, Joshua Ferry and Rachael O’Shaughnessy. It’s worth keeping an eye out for upcoming shows. Because the gallery itself is tiny, it’s also easy to enjoy the entirety of each exhibit in small sips, brief intervals that can be far more rewarding than a mere 20 or 30 minutes might suggest.
Jorge S. Arango has been writing about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland.